Posted Saturday evening, January 6, 2018.
Respect for the office demands disrespect for the man holding the office if he’s disgracing it.
Tweet’s from the Republican National Committee. Guy in the picture is that “famous bloviator” Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, a book Republicans would like to see skip the remainder bin and go straight to pulping…
I don’t want to ruin any Republican’s day (“Liar, Lance! Phony!”) but the genie’s out of the bottle. Cat’s out of the bag. Pandora’s box is open. A manager at Barnes & Noble just told me they’re sold out of Fire and Fury, so are all the other stores within a hundred mile radius, calls are coming in, there’s a waiting list, and the publisher has to reprint.
Maybe this will be it!
It’s infuriating to keep seeing essentially the same story reappear again and again from various news outlets: “Here in Trumpland, Trump voters still like Trump.” Where, we’d like to ask the editors and producers and journalists responsible, are the stories that go “Here in most of the rest of the country where the majority that voted against Trump live, those voters still don’t like Trump, in fact, they like him even less!”?
But there’s a journalistically practical reason why there are so many of the former sort of stories and so few of the latter. People who voted against Trump haven’t had any reason to change their minds and aren’t likely to get any while daily, and some days hourly, people who voted for him are presented with reason after reason why not only should they change their minds, they shouldn’t have voted for him to begin with, and if and when it finally sinks in, Trump is doomed.
The conventional wisdom has been that Trump is safe as long as Congressional Republican stick with him and they’ll stick with him as long as Republican voters stick with him. The political media feel they have to keep checking in order not to miss the moment when those voters come unstuck. So they go out to diners across what they institutionally believe is America’s heartland---those places where lots of resentful, conservative white people live---and ask the question again and again: “Considering what nutty thing he said/did/tweeted this week, are you still glad you voted for him?” What they’re doing is the journalistic equivalent of taking a patient’s temperature.
I think people have naturally heard that question as “Are you ready to admit you made a big, dumb mistake?” and who is ever ready to admit that?
What they’re on the look out for is the chance to give up on him without having to admit that that’s what they’re doing.
Wolff’s book---or at least the gossip about the gossip in the book---gives them that chance. They don’t have to admit they were wrong. They can tell themselves they weren’t wrong. They were conned. There’s a difference. And it could happen to anybody. When it does happen, you might kick yourself, but you don’t blame yourself as much as you get mad at the crook that conned you.
Fire and Fury tells a story that’s likely to make people mad, and mad at Donald Trump.
I didn’t have myself put on the waiting list at B&N. I’m not in a hurry to read the book. I’m not sure I’m going to read it. I don’t feel I need to. I already know the story. As many commentators have pointed out, the story Wolff tells is not new, and plenty of journalists have been telling it going back to January of last year: a lying, racist, incompetent, moral degenerate with a tyrant’s disposition and who is possibly crazy or senile or both is President of the United States, making for a dangerous state of affairs that nobody really knows how to cope with, which, of course, makes things even more dangerous. The trouble is in these tellings, journalists have tended to treat Trump like a president instead of as this President. They don’t tell us stories about Donald Trump. They report on a president who from time to time behaves to people’s shock and dismay like Donald Trump.
As the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico and their like along with the major broadcast and cable news networks report it, it’s a political story, with the President just the most prominent politician among many. The result is news story after news story about politicians squabbling. Same old, same old. Easy for people who aren’t political junkies to tune out. Easy for partisans to parse along their political biases. Respect for the office demands disrespect for the man holding the office if he’s disgracing it. But political journalists feel bound by tradition and the rules of professional etiquette to treat the man as if he is the office.
What Wolff has done is not tell a new story but report on it in other than the Washington Journalistic Establishment’s approved way. He doesn’t feel bound by tradition. He doesn’t care about professional etiquette. And Drew Magary, writing at GQ, thanks God for that.
Magary is no fan of Michael Wolff. He regards Wolff “the absolute worst of New York media-cocktail-circuit inbreeding.” He calls him a rat, as a matter of fact, but, he says, “sometimes you need a rat to catch a rat.”
Everyone around Donald Trump is too polite to Donald Trump. Democrats, foreign dignitaries, underlings… all of them. And the White House press is perhaps the worst offender. From the media pool playing along with Sarah Sanders during press conferences—conferences where Sanders openly lies and pisses on democracy—to access merchants like Maggie Haberman doling out Trump gossip like so many bread crumbs, too many reporters have been far too deferential to an administration that is brazenly racist, dysfunctional, and corrupt…
[Wolff] did not engage in some endless bullshit access tango. No, Wolff actually USED his access, and extended zero courtesy to Trump on the process, and it’s going to pay off for him not just from a book sales standpoint, but from a real journalistic impact. I am utterly sick to death of hearing anonymous reports about people inside the White House “concerned” about the madman currently in charge of everything. These people don’t deserve the courtesy of discretion. They don’t deserve to dictate the terms of coverage to people. They deserve to be torched.
Wolff gladly---gleefully---does the torching. As he tells the story, then, it’s not a political story. It’s a soap opera. Fire and Fury is about a whole bunch of bad people doing bad things. It’s a book full of villains behaving villainously, with the chief villain, Donald Trump, behaving most villainously of all.
That’s the kind of story that’s almost guaranteed to grip. It’s also the kind of story that gets around people’s political and ideological defenses. And it’s a story that lets Trump’s voters off the hook.
“I didn’t know he was like that!”
“Why didn’t anyone tell us he was that bad?”
“Where does a creep and a jerk like him get off thinking he can be President? Since when does someone like him think he can get away with being someone like him?”
“Thinks he can pull the wool over my eyes, does he?”
At any rate, I hope that’s what will happen. The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg hopes for more. She’s hoping that the secondary villains propping him up, the people Magary calls Trump’s “cadre of enablers, dunces, and outright thieves,” pay a price too:
But most of all, the book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it. One thread running through “Fire and Fury” is the way relatives, opportunists and officials try to manipulate and manage the president, and how they often fail. As Wolff wrote in a Hollywood Reporter essay based on the book, over the past year, the people around Trump, “all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”
According to Wolff, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, called Trump an “idiot.” (So did the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, though he used an obscenity first.) Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, compares his boss’s intelligence to excrement. The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, thinks he’s a “dope.” It has already been reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” which he has pointedly refused to deny.
And yet these people continue to either prop up or defend this sick travesty of a presidency. Wolff takes a few stabs at the motives of Trump insiders. Ivanka Trump apparently nurtured the ghastly dream of following her father into the presidency. Others, Wolff writes, told themselves that they could help protect America from the president they serve: The “mess that might do serious damage to the nation, and, by association, to your own brand, might be transcended if you were seen as the person, by dint of competence and professional behavior, taking control of it.”
This is a delusion as wild, in its own way, as Trump’s claim that the “Access Hollywood” tape was faked. Some of the military men trying to steady American foreign policy amid Trump’s whims and tantrums might be doing something quietly decent, sacrificing their reputations for the greater good. But most members of Trump’s campaign and administration are simply traitors. They are willing, out of some complex mix of ambition, resentment, cynicism and rationalization, to endanger all of our lives — all of our children’s lives — by refusing to tell the country what they know about the senescent fool who boasts of the size of his “nuclear button” on Twitter.
Maybe, at the moment, people in the Trump orbit feel complacent because a year has passed without any epic disaster, unless you count an estimated 1,000 or so deaths in Puerto Rico, which they probably don’t. There’s an old joke, recently cited by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, that describes where we are right now: A guy falls from a 50-story building. As he flies by the 25th floor, someone asks how it’s going. “So far, so good!” he says.
Eventually, we’ll hit the ground, and assuming America survives, there should be a reckoning to dwarf the defenestration of Harvey Weinstein and his fellow ogres. Trump, Wolff’s reporting shows, has no executive function, no ability to process information or weigh consequences. Expecting him to act in the country’s interest is like demanding that your cat do the dishes. His enablers have no such excuse.
You can read all of Goldberg’s and Magary’s columns by following the links to Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He’s an Idiot and Michael Wolff Did What Every Other White House Reporter Is Too Cowardly to Do, respectively.
Fire and Fury is available in hardcover at Amazon but they’re saying it’s at least two weeks before they can ship it. But the kindle edition is available for immediate download and the audiobook is ready for listening at Audible.
Hat tip to Mrs M.